SimplyCircle: An all-in-one app to manage parent communication

Today we have a special guest post from the folks from SimplyCircle. You have to check this App out! 

Now that school has started, have you decided how you’re going to communicate with parents? Keeping parents informed about what is happening in the class will get them more engaged. Plus, you can get more help from them in the classroom, if you do it right.

Many teachers still use email or paper flyers to communicate with parents. But emails can get stuck in spam folders, or get “buried” in an overflowing inbox. And a paper flyer may never make it home at all, or get turned into a paper airplane within minutes. As a result, teachers don’t get the parent engagement they need, despite all of their efforts to communicate.

Other teachers combine many different single-purpose tools – texting for messaging individual parents, mass emails for parent updates, a photo sharing service for sending photos, and online sign up sheets to get volunteers for their classroom. But using so many different tools is time-consuming for the teacher, and overwhelming for the parents. And so many things get “lost in translation”.

But did you know that there is a better way? I recommend a service called SimplyCircle. It’s a free service that combines all the tools that teachers need to communicate with parents in one easy-to-use platform. It takes just minutes to create a circle for your class and to get going, and then you can use the SimplyCircle web app or mobile app to manage all of your parent communication from any computer, tablet, or mobile phone.

Post messages, events and tasks
Rather than send out your class update through email, send it through SimplyCircle – and then parents can view it in their email, online, or through SimplyCircle’s iOS or Android apps. You can post regular messages, and also post events and tasks that have automated reminders. You won’t have to remember to remind parents to return that permission slip or bring back library books – SimplyCircle will do it for you. And, if you choose to, you can let parents participate in the discussion and share photos as well.

Get volunteers
Lots of parents want to help in the classroom, but they may not be willing to commit to volunteer for the full year at back-to-school night. With SimplyCircle, you can post volunteer opportunities that are one-off or recurring, and parents can sign up in one click. You can ask them to show up as volunteers, or to bring supplies or food.

Share photos and documents
With SimplyCircle, you can share photos with the entire class - securely.  Parents always love seeing pictures of their kiddos! Plus you can post your classroom rules, reading lists, homework or other docs where parents can refer back to them later.

Share on-the-go updates with the mobile app
SimplyCircle’s iOS and Android apps let you send updates, request volunteers or message individual parents in seconds. You can also share photos straight from your phone.

Easy to get started
Don’t have everyone’s email address? No problem. With SimplyCircle, you can create a unique invite code for your class and send it home on a flyer, requesting that parents join. Or if you have their email addresses, you can send out invitations in seconds.

So make this year the year that you modernize your classroom communications. With SimplyCircle, you’ll get better-informed and more helpful parents. And since SimplyCircle is completely free, you’ve got nothing to lose.

3 Ways to Use Google to Engage Students

This past weekend, I gave a webinar titled 10 Ways to Engage Students Using Google. Research on Universal Design for Learning from CAST has given a recipe for increasing student engagement:

  • Recruit Their Interest
  • Give Them Options for Effort and Persistence
  • Give Them Options for Self-Regulation
I wanted to take a moment to share three tools you can use to engage students using Google: 

# 1: Google Trends

Have you ever asked your students to do research on current events? "I don't know what to find," is the response that I most often got while I was in the classroom. Why not use Google Trends? This free tool gives students real-time information on what topics are trending across the globe. 

#2: Google Hot Trends

If your students are more visually inclined, then Hot Trends provides them with a visual representation of topics in real-time. This is the perfect visual tool to see what is trending.

#3: Google Custom Search Engine

Students often equate research as something tortorous and boring; however, what if you could help students find the resources they need in a more efficient manner? Create your own Google Custom Search Engine as a way to scaffold the research process. 

You choose which sites students can use and best of's powered by Google. This is a great tool to help your students learn how to research before you turn them loose into their own Google Searches.


Want to check out more ideas on how to engage students using Google? Check out my Simple K12 presentation from this past weekend's webinar

7 MORE Inexpensive Ways to Hack Your Way into the School Year

Teachers spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets each year because there is not enough money in their budget to provide for student needs. How can serve our students without depleting our entire income for this upcoming school year?

Here are some of your ideas to hack your way into the school year:

# 1 - Make Your Own Scratch-Off Tickets 

Have you ever thought about making your own scratch-off tickets? Students can use scratch-off tickets for reward systems, seating arrangements, and quiz questions. My good friend Bryan Dean makes his own scratch off tickets with a few drops of dishwasher soap for every 1/8 cup of silver acrylic paint. Then apply your scratch-off paint with contact paper to laminate paper or white paper. Once it is dry, your students are ready scratch off.

#2 - What Do Old Detergent Caps and Pencils Have in Common?

Encourage your friends, family, or your student's parents to save their old detergent caps. You can use them as desktop holders for students. Have your students use it to place their pens, pencils, or tablet stylus.

#3 - US Postal Service Boxes
US Postal Service boxes make great assignment bins. Stack them on top of one another, glue them together and use wallpaper or acrylic paint to decorate.

# 4 - No Money for Paint? Make Your Own!
Low on funds and need paint? Why not make your own paint? Just follow this simple recipe:
  • 1 cup of salt
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of water
  • Food coloring
After you are finished, place your paint in a condiment bottle.

# 5 - What Do DVD Cases, Plastic Plates, and Shower Tile Have in Common?

Need a low-tech way of increasing student interaction? Use your old DVD cases, plastic plates, or shower tile to create your own dry-erase boards. This inexpensive way of creating dry-erase boards gives each student a way to express their answers.

# 6 - Need a Quick Way to Remember Password?
Have you ever shopped for paint at your local hardware store? Why not use paint sample cards as a color-coded way for students to remember all of those hard to remember usernames and passwords?

# 7 - New Uses for Old Dish Racks

You can buy dish racks at the dollar store or you can convert your old one into storage space. Store books, iPads, and other devices in this common household item. 


Do you have more ideas to "hack" your way into the school year? I would love to hear your ideas! Perhaps it may be featured on my blog.

3 Inexpensive Ways to Hack Your Way into the School Year

Teachers spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets each year because there is not enough money in their budget to provide for student needs. How can serve our students without depleting our entire income for this upcoming school year? Here are some low-tech hacks to help your students. 

1. Dollar Store Table Cloths

No money for fancy bulletin boards? Plastic table cloths from the dollar store make the perfect bulletin board covers. 

Need a green screen? Hunter green table cloths make the best backgrounds for green screens. Are your students creating paper characters to appear on your video? Avoid using your hands and use green straws from Starbucks. They are invisible on your green screen.

2. No Desks? Pizza Anyone? 

I talked with a teacher a few days ago, who told me that she has more students than desks. Apparently in her school district, there are not enough desks for students. How can she solve this problem? I told her to visit her nearest pizza parlor and ask for pizza boxes. 

My friend Bryan Dean showed me how to turn pizza boxes into desks. With a little glue (or duct tape) and an extra piece of cardboard, you can create your own desks for students. 

3. Another Use for Home Depot Aprons

Elementary school teachers are always looking for places for students to store their books, pencils, and other utensils. Why not buy your students Home Depot aprons to tie to the back of their chairs? At 88 cents a piece, this is not a bad investment. 


Do you have more ideas to "hack" your way into the school year? I would love to hear your ideas! Perhaps it may be featured on my blog. 

3 Ways You Can Creatively Engage Parents This Year

Engaging parents is tough - especially in the fast-paced technology-driven society that we live in. Here are three creative ways to connect with parents, so that they are engaged in your classroom this fall!

1. Class News by Students, for Parents

How often have you been frustrated by the lack of response from your weekly newsletter or email blast to parents? The key is to get your students involved because parents are more likely to watch if their child is the "star."

  • Use iMovie, Movenote, and even Screencast-o-matic (screencast) to create a movie and publish it on YouTube or Vimeo
  • Create your own podcast on a program like AudioBoom or Voice Record Pro
As a side note, this is a great way to share homework assignments with students and parents. Many parents struggle with helping their child complete homework because they struggle to understand the directions or content. Create your own YouTube Channel with a brief screencast of 

2. Circle it Up with Simply Circle

Saving time and making communication with parents more efficient has never been easier than with SimplyCircle, a free website allows you to communicate quickly to entire groups or individual parents. This tool is the perfect way to ask for volunteers, receive donations, share documents, add photos, and communicate news.

3. Get Social

Parents love to see what's going on with their child each day. Why not create a closed group Facebook page, where you can communicate, share what is happening, and show pictures. It is a great way to get parents connected with a platform that they are already using.

Another teacher I know has turned to Instagram. She uses it to share news, events, and lessons learned through a simple picture and hashtag. Her parents (and students) love it!

Is your school social media policy strict? Why not create your own Edmodo page? This essentially does the same thing and eliminates a district's concerns about social media.

Want more cool ideas? 

Check out my SimpleK12 webinar this Saturday, August 22nd at 3 pm titled Creative Ways to Communicate with Parents.

Less Ibuprofen, More Noise Down!

The first day of school is coming soon to a school near you. We all know what that means! Learning, excitement, and NOISE. Noise isn't such a bad thing, but how can you keep your students at a manageable noise level?

An excellent FREE tool is called the Noise Down App for iOS. This simple to use App helps you manage the noise in your classroom and even your home.

How does it work? 

Use Noise Down to measure the current noise level in decibels and set your maximum decibel limit. As soon as someone goes over the limit, an alarm sounds!

Students (and your own kids) now cannot say that they were not being too loud! The proof is in the App.

Not only will this tool help decrease your Ibuprofen intake, but it will help your students learn how to manage their sound levels inside the classroom. What a great self-regulation tool to have literally in your pocket!

Ziggedy an Excellent Option for the Cash-Strapped Classroom

Unfortunately we live in a time where funding is one of the biggest barriers towards helping students learn. Teachers often tap into their own pockets to help students learn. What if there was a better way?

If you were at ISTE this past year, you may have run into an amazing company called Ziggedy, which specializes in helping teachers raise money for their classrooms.

How does it work?
  • You create a free Ziggedy teacher account. NO FINANCIAL INFORMATION NEEDED!
  • Get your supporters (parents, family, and friends) to find your name on Ziggedy and create a free account too. 
  • Login to Ziggedy, then visit one of  3,500 of your favorite online retailer's websites like Target, Kohls, Best Buy, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart!
  • Because you logged into Ziggedy, they are  notified anytime you buy X amount of dollars (no financial / credit card information is shared) from X retailer.  The retailer gives Ziggedy a commission and Ziggedy splits the commission with your classroom in need. 
  • You get a check at the end of every quarter. No credit cards or bank accounts needed! 
Want to learn more? Check Ziggedy out here or see the following video:

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